Taking Noah on a camping trip has been on my list for some time now. He and Thomas have been hiking with me for almost two years now, and Noah in particular (who is almost three and a half now) asks a lot about all the backpacking that I wander off on. Katie is also very interested in getting Noah out on an overnight, even as her pregnancy keeps her off the trails these days. Now that the Arizona highs are starting to drop below triple digits we picked a weekday night and a convenient location and decided to go for it.
The three of us headed out to the horse lot parking at First Water Trailhead and got our gear all loaded just after four in the afternoon. The horse lot parking is closest to an old two-track that leads down to First Water Ranch, the location we had picked for this trial outing. The ranch is less than a half mile from the vehicle, has plenty of flat ground for camping, and even offers a rusty roof overhead for weather protection. After a short jaunt along the main road we started down the two-track, all three of us moving along at different paces.
I carried the bulk of our gear in my old 65L Scheels backpack from UP hiking days, including the sleeping bags, tent, and my hammock. Katie was carrying the clothes and a few miscellaneous items in her smaller pack, one that I was hesitant on having her haul during her second trimester, but she insisted on helping. Noah had on his small Camelbak that I've been having him bring along on just about every hike we do, just to get him used to it. I was in the lead and stopped frequently to keep an eye on things while Katie brought up the rear, Noah bouncing between the two of us like an excited electron.
Once we hit the downhill section Noah took off, running as fast as his little legs would let him, and I booked it to keep up. If he's going to fall I'd rather be nearby to help him back up then putzing far behind. We reached the bottom and, after glancing back up to make sure Katie was fine, weaved our way through the maze of corrals and reached the ranch remains.
Time to teach Noah about camp chores. We set up the tent under the large metal roof, taking advantage of that shelter, and he carried bundles of gear from the pack over to where we were setting up. After the tent was set up and Katie was starting on rolling out the mats and sleeping bags I strung out the hammock between two fence posts. Our main tent is a bit too small for three (really, it's cramped even for two) so I volunteered to sleep out under the stars. It was a tough sacrifice, yet someone had to do it.
With camp ready and gear stowed away the next thing was firewood. There was only two small logs by the firepit so Noah and I headed out to find more. I made sure to stop him from picking up his own sticks, with all the prickly nasties out here, and only let him carry pieces back that I gave him. Thanks to the numerous Palo Verde trees and other random brush near First Water creek we had a decent stack of firewood and a small blaze going for our dinner just before the sun set.
Noah had a ball with the campfire. He kept a respectable distance from the flames and helped cook both hot dogs and marshmallows (for dessert s'mores) on a stick. Mostly helped, anyways. While we ate dinner some bats came by and swooped low for the bugs attracted by all of our lights, creating some entertainment for us to watch. The only thing that spooked us was some rodents rustling in a nearby tree that was barely too far away for us to make them out. Probably a coati or something.
Getting to bed was a bit of an ordeal. The plan was to keep him up until the late hours so he'd sleep through the night. By seven it was dark enough that he was asking to go to bed. The tent was still a pretty cool experience for him, too. However, he kept wanting to go in and out of the tent, and we had to continually remind him that boots stayed outside. After the third pee run I started putting out the fire, hoping that if Katie and I also settled down this early then he'd be more content to stay put.
Once the fire was out the lightening in the south was much more visible. Figures that we'd have that to deal with. I kept an eye on it, first deciding to move my hammock under the metal roof shelter near the tent, then starting to pack up loose items in case we needed to bail. Between my restless fidgeting and our chatting about the storms Noah wasn't able to settle down, and after one decent strike less than five miles away confirming the storm's approach we decided to call it. I'm frightful enough of lightening by myself - adding in the concern for my family made this call easy to make.
So, yes, we bailed on Noah's first camping trip. At least we got the highlights out of the way. We got to set up the tents together, collect firewood, and have a campfire and fireside dinner. Plus s'mores. On the way out I sent Katie and Noah on ahead and tore down camp alone, and they had a great night hike together, catching glimpses of scorpions and baby tarantulas in their headlamps. We made it home before ten and carried a now-sleeping three-year old into the house, all of us smelling like campfire and dust. He started asking about our next camping trip the moment he woke up the following morning.